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Church Commissioners

Volume 716: debated on Thursday 23 June 2022

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Places of Worship: Net Zero Target

6. What contribution the Church has made towards achieving the Government’s net zero target in relation to its places of worship. (900666)

The Church of England is trying to achieve net zero by 2030. Examples include solar panels on the roofs of Gloucester and Salisbury cathedrals, heat pumps and underfloor heating in Newcastle cathedral and Bath abbey using natural hot spring water. I even have a vicar coming to see me shortly about a tidal power proposition for his church.

I recently attended a wonderful service at St Mary’s church in Tickhill; it is a beautiful 12th century church and the pride of Tickhill. However, it is struggling to raise finance to replace its dated heating system. If that was to be replaced with a ground-source heat pump, that would cost in excess of £750,000. What can my hon. Friend suggest to help the church? Many of my other churches will face the same issue, including those in Hatfield, Rossington, Bawtry and Thorne, among others.

I absolutely get the scale of the challenge as I have similar churches in my constituency, and I know that the churches that my hon. Friend mentioned in Hatfield, Rossington, Bawtry and Thorne will be looking at the issue carefully. In the first instance, I suggest that they look at the diocese of Sheffield’s green energy audit scheme and the “funding net zero” section of the Church of England website. Emissions savings can be made by, for example, switching from oil to under-pew heating from renewable electricity.

Ukrainian Refugees

Four bishops and hundreds of clergy currently have Ukrainian evacuees living with them. The Church is also using vacant vicarages for Ukrainian families. The Church continues to encourage its members to open their homes and to support those who have.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his answer. Certainly, I have seen lots of activities in churches in my own constituency. We have a lot of mums with children arriving in the United Kingdom and in South Northamptonshire. Lots of them either want to work or are working, but with the summer holidays fast approaching there will be the need for childcare. Can my hon. Friend give us an idea of what the Church can do to provide summer playgroups, so that Ukrainian children can keep learning English and making new friends?

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is typically too modest to mention that she is herself host to a Ukrainian family. I thank her, on behalf of the Church of England, for what she is doing.

The point my right hon. Friend makes about summer holiday clubs for children is extremely important. I can tell her that most parishes are now operating such clubs, although we are not quite back to where we were before the pandemic, due to a shortage of volunteers. I will ask the Diocese of Peterborough to let her know the details of all our clubs operating in her area.

May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to June Partington and others at the parish of Christ Church and St George’s in Denton? June and the parish have organised, on behalf of churches across Tameside in Greater Manchester, the Homes for Ukraine scheme. Is that not precisely what the Church of England, having parishes in every community, is about?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the strength of the Church is in its parish life. I am very happy to pay considerable tribute, and give thanks, to June and all the parishes in Tameside who are clearly doing such good and important work.

Russian Orthodox Church: Ukraine

8. What discussions representatives of the Church have had with their counterparts in the Russian Orthodox Church on the conflict in Ukraine. (900668)

The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken frankly with Patriarch Kirill during the invasion. The Church of England has chaplaincies in both Russia and Ukraine, and will continue to foster dialogue in the pursuit of peace.

Last week, the Foreign Office sanctioned the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. What steps can the Church of England take to try to persuade the Russian Orthodox Church that it is wrong to back Putin and this barbarous war?

The Church Commissioners and our pensions board were some of the first institutions to take all practical steps to withdraw from their direct investments in Russia. The Church of England remains committed to a ministry of reconciliation based on love and truth, and will continue to reach out—for example, through the chaplain of St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Moscow, who is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia.

The conflict in Ukraine has highlighted the importance of many freedoms, including the freedom of religion or belief. I am very pleased that Ukraine will be represented at the conference on freedom of religion or belief here in July. What, in my hon. Friend’s opinion, would be a successful outcome to the conference for delegates such as those from Ukraine and elsewhere, where freedom of religion or belief is being violated or denied?

It is a really important question. The bottom line must be a reduction in global persecution, which is going up, not down. Presidents and Prime Ministers need to prioritise this issue. We need better co-ordination with civil society. We need freedom of religion or belief in education and we want young freedom of religion or belief ambassadors.

Institutional Racism

9. To ask the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, what steps the Church is taking to tackle institutional racism. (900670)

Parts of the Church of England behaved appallingly in turning away Caribbean worshippers after the war. The Church has paid a heavy price in losing the spirit-filled vitality of those worshippers to spread the good news of Jesus. Work by Lord Boateng and the inspirational Peter Stream, which is drawing ordinands from a wide variety of races and backgrounds, is starting to redress that shameful episode.

The decision to refuse to ordain Calvin Robinson was a missed opportunity, but my hon. Friend is both a fair-minded and God-fearing person. I hope I can rely on him to ask the bishops to pray, reflect and reconsider.

I must say to my right hon. Friend that it would not be appropriate for me to comment specifically on an individual candidate for ordination. The period of initial formation for candidates is part of the discernment process, and not every candidate who starts training finishes it or is judged ready for ordination at the end of it. I am informed that, as with all applications for the ministry, this candidate was considered irrespective of Church tradition, political views or race.